Coping with Chaos: Part 1 of 3
Building Better Boundaries
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
We need to recognize that the anger, fear, and gloom in mass consciousness can subtly infect our mood and outlook. Wherever we already feel stressed, this influence will add to it. For some, the chaos in mass consciousness can be a primary cause for our irritability, pessimism, and anxiety. For this reason, we need to learn to protect ourself from these influences by building better boundaries for protecting our well-being and the responsibilities we take on. There are two major ways we can do this. First, we need to avoid major investments of our time and energy where we have no influence. Second, always try to know when we have done enough to help in any situation for the present and then stop.
Script: Psalm 12: 1 The Lord is my light and salvation—whom shall I fear? The lord is the stronghold of my life-–of whom shall I be afraid?
There is a subtle but growing unrest and chaos about us, and it is manifesting as increasing demonstrations of intolerance, distrust, and hostile comments. Even when we are not the object of this harassment, the impact of this agitation can affect us. This can occur in the same way a large fire across town can fill the air we breathe with irritating odors. Likewise, when mass consciousness is filled with the hostility and alienation of many, it can disturb our mood and attention just as smoke in the atmosphere can affect us.
There are some who would claim that society seems to be having a nervous breakdown, and many people are beginning to “feel the craziness.” Thus, it may be time to give attention to:
separating ourselves from some of the worst trouble
controlling our emotional reactions
learning how to stay centered in our strengths, purpose, and only those issues where we have some control or influence
and otherwise avoid being seduced into conflicts we cannot solve or relieve by any of our opinions, speech, or outrage.
While these toxic influences from mass consciousness are often ignored, they have the power to aggravate wherever we already feel uncertain and annoyed. The signs that something more than our direct, personal experiences are upsetting us are that we:
are beginning to lose our usual tranquility
seem on edge and more irritable than usual
are often prone to headaches, poor sleep, and nightmares
have lost our sense of humor and becoming more sober and joyless
feel less alert and often struggle with a mild mental fog.
This added stress can stimulate our tendency to be anxious and discouraged, or it can add its power to enhance any pre-existing illness.
If any of these signs and symptoms are present in us, then we may have become overwhelmed by all the agitation and unrest in our environment and mass consciousness.
We need to learn how to protect ourself from these aggravations.
The difference between a trigger versus a cause of our anxiety
In managing anxiety and stress, it is important to recognize one very important fact about how we become emotionally upset. We react to disturbing events. Events and situations do not directly cause us distress. Fires and earthquakes do not create anxiety or confusion. We do! We react to these events with our excitement. Outer situations are triggers, not causes, of our anger, anxiety, or despair. Therefore, these reactions are our problems to fix in ourself.
We cannot just sit back and blame conditions or people, for we are involved in contributing our disgust or despair to our ultimate state of emotions. Many resist this insight about their emotional distress, yet it is valid. Think, for instance, of the person who has a phobia about spiders.
Merely seeing a picture of spiders often leads to a burst of anxiety. These individuals need to learn to control their emotions rather than demand the government ban all spiders.
This insight becomes important when we seek to cope with chronic recurring stress, anxiety, and the fatigue that accompanies them.
The value of minding our own business
The second major principle in learning to protect ourself from excessive anxiety is this. Do not allow our sympathetic or angry concerns turn into worry or disgust. Where we have little or no influence on the thinking or behavior of a person, leave it. Where we have no impact on the outcome of some policy, we need to leave it to others who can affect the outcome. There are undoubtedly many legitimate problems in our government and other aspects of society. However, unless we have direct control of these situations, we need to appreciate when we are engaging in unnecessary and pointless stress.
If these ideas seem strange, think of it this way. We already understand that it does no good to scream at the microwave for heating our muffin too long and drying it out. And the same logic applies to recognizing that it is also futile to yell, silently or overtly, at some person on television who is saying something we do not like. This example illustrates the type of common sense and self-control that keeps us out of trouble. This halts the instant reaction to what often evolves into greater irritation for ourself.
This lack of interest or concern means we are not worried, not discouraged, not angry, and not afraid about this issue or problem. And moreover, we refuse to be guilted by the real agitators into taking up their cause to hate what they hate.
If we want to do something helpful, then those who wish to do so can offer a brief prayer about this issue. Other than this, we probably should not try to become personally involved. If we have no way to influence the outcome, then stay out of it and save our energies for where they can be effective.
What this means for our peace of mind
Why address these topics in the context of our interest in preserving our peace of mind and greater self-mastery? It is because our psychological atmosphere has become filled with agitation, hostility, and alienation.
Millions of agitated, worried, and distressed people have and continue to pour their anger, fear, and sadness into mass consciousness. This leaves us to breathe, live, and move in this poisoned atmosphere.
These are the energies that can add to our tendencies to be:
worried about our own special concerns
burdened and annoyed about the legitimate problems we have
discouraged about key issues in our personal world.
In other words, the climate of distrust, agitation, and pessimism in mass consciousness can stimulate in us any natural tendency to be emotionally upset and irritated. This is especially true in those who lead complex lives which include major responsibilities in their careers and domestic life. The more we have to interact with the public, the more risk there is of being infected by these negative forces.
Our automatic response to a poisoned emotional atmosphere depends on where we are the most vulnerable.
insecure people will become more anxious and worried
depressed people will become more discouraged or apathetic
angry people will become more grumpy and impatient.
Warning: many people never notice these changes because they develop very slowly in most. In addition, it is easy to attribute any distress to some concrete situation rather than the influence of the negativity in mass consciousness. However, friends will notice when we are acting oddly, and a few of the brave and honest ones will mention it to us.
So what is really going on in these situations, and what can we do about it?
In simple terms, our subconscious is being infected with the negative emotions and agitation from mass consciousness. We, in effect, are breathing in the exhaled resentment, discouragement, and fear of the masses. These forces are invading our capacity for self-control, right thinking, and calmness. This is what can diminish our peace, confidence, and joy in living.
And it also is a message for those who are concerned about polluting our environment with physical toxins. This message is: we should also be aware of how our psychological environment is being polluted with rage, fear-mongering, and guilt.
What we can do to counteract these toxic influences is to build better boundaries and definitions about who we are, what we stand for, and our responsibilities. More specifically, we need to:
set limits or boundaries on our authority and ability to change situations and people
know the boundaries or limit where our responsibility ends and the responsibilities of others begins
decide when we have done enough to help and can contribute no more for the present time
define the boundaries where the demands of others are unrealistic and unfair, no matter how much they insist we must fix it for them.
Thus, we must begin this process by clarifying the precise nature of our major beliefs and values. Pleasant generalities such as, I wish all people to be peaceful, is too general. We need to decide what we stand for or will reject. Only then can we distinguish ourselves from the junk and nonsense in mass consciousness and group thinking.
Many are reluctant to define themselves in what seems to be narrow terms. But it should be understood that we only need to make a preliminary definition. We can always revise them as our experiences encourage change. The danger to us if we lack such definitions is that we will wander about in perpetual, vague mood of sentiment about what we believe, what we want, and what we don’t want. This means we have weak boundaries and will be excessively vulnerable to the toxic influences of others. Or as the cliché states: If we stand for nothing, we will fall for anything.
Thus, we will have weak boundaries and be vulnerable to the agitation when someone vigorously insists we are:
outrageously wrong about our political beliefs
definitely a racist or bigot
guilty of not being sufficiently deferential to some minority
unwilling to have our taxes doubled or tripled.
For these reasons, we need to form better mental and emotional boundaries for interacting with other people as well as mass consciousness.
This means we need to:
have some preliminary decisions about what we believe, or not
decide which key popular ideas, policies, ideologies, and alleged dangers are nothing that concerns or interests us
determine when we will (politely) refuse to accept certain suggestions or accusations
and when we will not allow others to intimidate us for having opinions that differ from theirs.
When our accusers accuse us of being judgmental because we reject their ideas, our response to their attack should be: My comments are neither judgmental nor a casual opinion. It is called thinking, and it leads to discernment and understanding about the facts and what they mean. And please be careful about your judgments!
Remember, the first effective way to resist nonsense in mass consciousness is to practice the rule which states: If I have no influence or control this issue, then I should not be concerned about it. I will have no impact on it. I will only upset myself without accomplishing anything.
The second important way to resist the junk in mass consciousness is to stay centered in our powers of intelligence, self-control, courage, goodwill, and optimism. While we may have significant problems in our relationships, physical health, past emotional wounds, we must view and manage them from our centers of strength. We need to apply our best understanding, confidence, and skills to these issues.
This is where we must begin our thinking and planning for:
what we shall do
how much we will do for the present
and when we can, with clear conscience, withdraw and save our energy for better projects.
In this manner, we start with the forces that we control and apply them in constructive ways and methods that will be effective.
We have the right and the obligation to use a mindset that is centered and grounded in our power, our authority, our own ideas, and our ability to manage successfully our own affairs. We get to choose those people, beliefs, and forces that we will either champion or reject. These are some of the ways that will keep us resistant to the agitation and chaos in mass consciousness.